Using unsweetened chocolate as an ingredient in savory European dishes dates back to the sixteenth century, when Spanish explorers first carried it back to Europe from Mexico. Today, the Catalan people of northeastern Spain continue to use chocolate in a number of preparations where its ability to thicken, flavor, and generally fill in the gaps is valued in stew making. Not immediately recognizable in the finished dish, the chocolate helps it become, like any good stew, truly greater than the sum of its parts, mingling here with the sweetness of prunes and succulent chunks of veal.–Stanley, Leon, Evan, Mark, and David Lobel
Meat from the breast and shoulder makes for the most flavorful veal stews. Breast meat, because of its higher fat and collagen content, cooks to a more tender, rich, and meltingly soft result, which for many is the hallmark of a great stew. On the other hand, cubed breast meat tends to fall apart, so that the finished dish has fewer prominent chunks of meat than stews made with other cuts. Additionally, veal breast has alternating layers of fat and lean, much like pork belly, and you may find yourself having to separate the soft flavorful meat from the remaining pieces of fat as you eat. None of this poses a problem for us, though, because the taste and texture of a stew made with veal breast is rich, silky, and simply without peer.
For a chunkier stew and less fat to contend with, choose shoulder meat. It is nearly as good as breast meat, and the cubes retain their shape and gently collapse in your mouth. Because the veal shoulder has less fat, as it cooks there’s less skimming in the end. Each cut is delicious and distinct in its own way. If you purchase boneless veal breast or shoulder, you will need 2 1/2 pounds of meat and 1 1/2 pounds of bones; ask your butcher to save the bones for you.
Catalan-Style Veal Stew with Prunes and Potatoes Recipe
Hands-On Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes | Total Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes | Serves 4
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 to 4 1/2 pounds bone-in veal breast or shoulder, meat cut into 1-inch cubes, bones reserved (see Butcher’s Note)
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons Spanish brandy, Armagnac, or other similar brandy
- 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
- One 16-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
- Two 2-by-1-inch strips orange zest
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 large bay leaf
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 pounds thin-skinned, waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3/4 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely grated
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3/4 pound prunes, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes and drained (see Note)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- 2. In a flameproof casserole or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, cook the veal and veal bones until golden brown on at least two sides, about 5 minutes per side, reducing the heat if they threaten to burn. Transfer to a large plate and set aside.
- 3. Let the casserole cool slightly and return it to medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until pale gold at the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the brandy and wine and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes longer, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any browned bits.
- 4. Stir in the tomatoes, orange zest, thyme, bay leaf, and 1 tablespoon salt, then add the meat, bones, and any juices accumulated on the plate. Add just enough water to cover the meat (cover the meat only; it’s okay if the large bones stick up). Bring to a bare simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven.
- 5. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 250°F (120°C) and continue to cook until the meat is somewhat tender but not yet falling apart, about 2 hours more. Adjust the oven temperature as needed to maintain a bare simmer.
- 6. Remove the pot from the oven and let rest, uncovered, for at least 15 minutes. Skim off most of the fat collected on the surface. Pick off any meat remaining on the bones and add it to the pot. Discard the bones, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.
- 7. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the potatoes and, using a spatula, toss them until coated with the oil. Reduce the heat to medium and fry the potatoes, tossing them constantly, until they’re golden and crispy on at least two sides and tender within, about 20 minutes, reducing the heat if they threaten to burn. As they finish cooking, sprinkle them with salt to taste. Set the potatoes aside in their skillet.
- 8. Return the casserole to the stove top over medium heat and return the stew to a simmer. Stir in the chocolate, cinnamon, cayenne, and drained prunes. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has thickened slightly so that it is midway between a broth and a sauce, about 30 minutes. If necessary, add salt to taste. If the pieces of veal seem a bit dry and firm, break them up somewhat with the back of a wooden spoon to help them absorb the sauce.
- 9. To serve, reheat the potatoes to re-crisp them, if necessary, and ladle the stew into large, shallow serving bowls. Top each serving with a handful of potatoes and a sprinkling of the parsley. Serve immediately, passing any remaining potatoes at the table.
- Pitted prunes also work well here, so if you like, you can remove the pits. We think the stew looks best with plump, whole fruits with pits. If serving prunes with pits, just be sure to let your guests know.
- Make-Ahead Tip
- If you skip the cooking of the potatoes in step 7, you can prepare the stew up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat the stew gently, covered, thinning with a bit of water or stock if it seems too thick. Then, while it’s reheating, prepare the potatoes as directed, in step 7. When the stew is hot and the potatoes are cooked through and crisp, simply serve as directed in step 9.
- Wine Note
- Because veal itself is fairly neutral, when thinking about wines to drink alongside this dish, we looked to the ingredients that surround it. Here, the ripe sweetness of prunes together with tomatoes, cinnamon, and a bit of chocolate steered our choices. As we’ve stated elsewhere, when there’s sweetness in a dish — even just a little — it usually tastes better with a white wine that has a touch of sweetness itself or a red that has a rich core of fruit flavors. In either case, what you don’t want are wines that are bone-dry, austere, or, for reds, tannic. Two whites and one red stood out in our veal stew tasting: Torres “Viña Esmeralda,” a lightly sweet, tangy, and aromatic Muscat-Gewürztraminer blend from the most important winery in the region; R. Lôpez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” Reserva, a well-aged white Rioja that — surprise — was dry, yet still deliciously mellow with the stew; and Castell del Remei “Gotim Bru,” a warm and deeply fruit-filled blend of mostly Tempranillo with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Catalan denominacón of Costers del Segre, west of Barcelona. From outside Spain, choose a moderately rich but easygoing red wine like the Steltzner Claret, a Cabernet-Merlot blend from California’s Napa Valley or, for a white, an off-dry wine like the Robert Mondavi Chenin Blanc.
Catalan-Style Veal Stew with Prunes and Potatoes Recipe © 2006 Morris Lobel and Sons, Inc. Photo © 2006 James Baigrie. All rights reserved.